'Courses with other groups are more relaxed'

The international dimension of all MBA courses has been taken as read now for well over a decade. But, until recently, that element of most courses has been covered without the students straying too far, or for too long, from their home campus and the local business community.

Recently, though, the landscape has changed in a number of ways. There are two basic models: first, the business school that sets up satellite campuses, principally to recruit new students locall; and second, the school with two or more established bases that uses these to design an MBA programme where students travel between sites as part of the course. A variation on the second theme is where two or more schools, in different continents, co-operate to offer a joint programme. The common factor is an increase in the amount of time students are exposed to international dimensions of all sorts.

Grenoble Graduate School of Business (GGSB), on the fringe of the French Alps, is a striking example of those schools taking the first route. Over the past seven years or so, it has pursued a policy of opening campuses outside France, and now have five up and running, in Moscow, Moldova, Malta, Georgia and, most recently, London.

At each site there's a yearly intake of around 20 students on a part-time MBA lasting two years. The students are usually, but not exclusively, local citizens. Every six weeks or so, a member of the Grenoble faculty flies out to deliver an intense four- or five-day weekend of teaching, leading eventually to the award of a Grenoble MBA.

GGSB has chosen the locations for a variety of reasons: either because that is where French businesses have set up with a clear need to hire local talent with an internationally recognised qualification; or where a clear demand is identified among the local business community for access to an MBA programme, as was the case in Georgia.

According to Alison Vodden, Grenoble's Director of MBA programmes, the new campuses have produced benefits for all GGSB's MBA students. "The students at our new campuses get the full international value of the Grenoble MBA and have the chance to attend some courses in Grenoble itself. For the Grenoble-based students, they now mix with an even wider group of business executives, increasing their cross-cultural experience."

Maastricht School of Management, in the Netherlands, has pursued a similar route, with one crucial difference. The MBAs, at 19 different venues, ranging from China and Kazakhstan to Surinam and Rwanda, are not taught by Maastricht faculty, but by local teachers, engaged by local institutions, in a sort of franchised arrangement.

Both Grenoble and Maastricht are accredited by the Association of MBAs (AMBA), where the Chief Executive Jeanette Purcell welcomes this type of internationalisation. But with one caveat. "We expect to see control and monitoring undertaken by the centre, because they are awarding MBAs in their name," she explains.

In the case of the Maastricht arrangement, this has led AMBA to visit some of the satellite sites to ensure standards are maintained.

Some business schools, though, exploit their own spread of real estate. These include Insead, just outside Paris, which has a sister site in Singapore, and the University of Chicago Graduate School of Business, which, since the late 1990s, has had campuses in London and Singapore to augment its Illinois operation.

Chicago's executive MBA, lasting 21 months, offers students, wherever they enrol, three weeks away from base, divided between the other two sites, mixing with cohorts from the other places.

"We do not send them to Singapore, for example, so that they can learn how people do business in Singapore," says Arnold Longboy, Director of Executive MBA Recruitment. "It's so they can interact with an even larger number of nationalities than they have in their own cohort."

The result is similar when different schools cooperate on joint programmes. London Business School and Columbia Business School in New York, for example, offer a 20-month executive MBA, where students spend four to six days every month, alternating between different sides of the Atlantic.

It's designed for people who already hold trans-national responsibility in their obs, and aims to mix the best elements of both North American and European business education.

A three-pronged variety is offered by LSE in London, HEC in Paris and New York University's Stern School, who jointly award what they call Trium MBA. As well as two-week spells in London, Paris and New York, students spend two study periods at international locations, chosen annually for their relevance to global business issues.

And as those issues become increasingly important for businesses around the world, it's likely that MBA students will need their passports more and more.

Jean-Louis Van-Marcke, 37, from Brussels, has just completed an executive MBA at the University of Chicago Graduate School of Business, based at its Barcelona site (the school has since move its European base to London). He's the co-founder of Bobex, an online business-to-business market place, which matches buyers and sellers for company purchases. During the two years of his MBA, he spent 16 weeks at the school's campuses: 13 in Barcelona, two in Chicago and one in Singapore. He also continued to work on the business.

"I wanted to do an MBA because I wanted to get a better understanding of finance and economics, so I could take better decisions in my day-to-day entrepreneurial environment. Chicago offered the best MBA with these specialisms, while still based in Europe. But spending time at the other two sites gave me a unique opportunity to get to know people from three different continents. These weeks take place in the summer, after the first year. The courses with the other the groups are deliberately more relaxed, like marketing and psychology, to allow time to spend network. This was especially interesting in the friendly Asian culture of Singapore."